Abd al-Hakim Belhaj: the Libyan people are Muslims and their revolution is an Islamic one

Abd al-Hakim Belhaj, Photo: PBS NewsHour

Abd al-Hakim Belhaj, Photo: PBS NewsHour

Source: Fars News Agency , Date: 31 August 2011

Fars News Agency, in an interview in Tripoli posted on 29 August 2011 with Abd al-Hakim Belhaj, the commander of Tripoli’s Military Council, quoted him as saying that the rebellion which overthrew Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime is an ‘Islamic’ revolution.

According to Fars, Belhaj stated that:

“It is true that NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] forces have aided us in this revolution, however this does not make our revolution un-Islamic, the Libyan people are Muslims and their revolution is an Islamic one.”

He denied that the NATO’s involvement in overthrowing Gaddafi meant that the West would play a more prominent role in Libya and instead formulated an Islamic vision of the country’s future:

 “Libya is free now and in the near future shall regain its former position among Islamic nations.”

This was also echoed in his comments regarding the form that Libya’s future government would take:

“The absolute majority of Libyans are Muslims and naturally desire an Islamic system that respects all citizen’s rights, our revolution is an Islamic one and our people took to the streets for this reason…Listen to the slogans of the revolutionary forces, have you heard any cries other than “Allah akbar” [“God is great”] from them? Come to the streets on Friday and see the thousands of Muslim people on Libya’s streets so that you understand that our revolution is a completely Islamic one.”

Editor’s note: If Fars’ account of Belhaj’s interview is correct, it could shed some light on what may come in the weeks and months ahead as Libya’s new political system and ties with other states take shape.

As Foreign Policy Magazine pointed out in a recent piece, Belhaj is the former leader of an al-Qaeda linked radical Islamist group called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). While he has taken a more moderate stance in recent years, Belhaj’s presence among the rebels in such a senior position certainly implies that political Islam may be a strong current among the forces that overthrew Gaddafi. The Telegraph noted that this may in fact be the case and that its effect can already be seen in the Transitional National Council’s (TNC) proposed interim constitution which calls Sharia “the principle source of legislation”.

The presence of Islamists among the TNC and rebels may present interesting opportunities for the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). As we noted on 28 August 2011 and the New York Times today, the Arab Spring has become a central focus of Iran’s regional foreign policy. In regards to Libya, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali-Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying that the IRI has been aiding the rebels for some time now and hinted that a more comprehensive strategy may exist there. Will Belhaj be Iran’s man in Tripoli?